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June 2014


Hob. #





Instruments / Notes


Singspiel for Marionettes


Der Götterath


Only the overture and one fragment remain / 2 Oboes, 2 Horns, 2 Trumpets, Timpani & Strings w/continuo


Singspiel for Marionettes


Philemon und Baucis


2 Oboes, 2 Horns & Strings w/continuo

1773 Philemon & Bausic in a modern production
A modern production of "Philemon & Baucis"

Since I was a child, puppets always had a fascination for me. Apparently, the requisite 'voluntary suspension of disbelief' state was not too hard for me to achieve. Little did I know though, I was part of a centuries-long tradition of puppetry which rose to include even opera among its ranks. And my interest was shared by people who spanned the full social spectrum.

Not just the social spectrum either, but the temporal one. Marionettes actually date back to ancient Greece, and have been found in Egyptian tombs, also. There is an Haydn Philemon & Baucis Brunner coverunbroken line right through to today, when puppet shows are still followed closely and attended by thousands annually. In contemplating the reasons for this popularity, I have wondered if psychologically it is easy for people to relate to puppets because, being non-human, they can allow our imaginations to identify the puppet either with our own selves or with people we know. This is, of course, the goal of every actor, but perhaps puppets have it easier due to the effect mentioned above; voluntary suspension of disbelief.

Another thing about marionettes, relating to 18th century Europe now, is that packing up and moving along from town to town with a few people and a bunch of puppets and their wardrobe was a far less expensive and doable thing than moving an entire troupe of actors and opera singers around. And despite the fact of opera and music being written for the upper classes, there is no doubt the middle classes in their smaller towns enjoyed the music and drama too. Every small town in Europe didn't have an opera house or concert hall, but a large play-wagon with a foldout stage, a clavier and some clever performers could, and did, bring the music of the big cities to the small town for centuries. The main medium for these traveling players was not opera, though, but coarser fare, such as Hanswurst comedies in Austro-Hungary and Pulcinella ones in Italy and surrounding areas and Punch in England. Still, beginning in Paris in the late 17th century and right up to the 20th century, play-wagons continued to bring opera to small town Europe. And in fact, this afternoon, if you are in Salzburg, you can go to a playhouse and see Mozart's Die Zauberflöte performed by marionettes!

Even though Eszterháza's resident marionette troupe was just that; resident, this made them only slightly different than the touring companies. In 1773, their 'play-wagon' was the newly built Marionette Opera House, diagonally across the French Garden and facing the Opera House. Even though it no longer stands, or at best it was a gutted stack of rubble which was in process of being remodeled in 2011, contemporary descriptions are of a grotto with glittery cave walls with tiny fountains, and lit by hidden sconces opening into a relatively large gallery which, however, lacked boxes and had instead eleven rows of seats. It was a fairly substantial building, and among its many amenities were stage scenery walls which opened up a view onto the Garden, allowing special effects such as were produced for Maria Theresia.

Along with the new entertainment came a new troupe of players, of course. The most important, and driving force of the entire project, was Karl Michael von Pauersbach, who worked for the Prince from 1773 to 1778. He did all the stage design, costuming, choreography and was probably the manipulator of the main characters. As we will see, when he left in 1778, the show went into a relatively steep decline. There were also singers hired specifically for the marionette opera, at least one of whom began with our current work and remained as late as 1810!

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/14060816/51ffadf3-f0ed-424d-bec1-7d49ba3b892d.png

As we have already seen, the two works here, Der Götterath and Philemon und Baucis, were two separate stories blended into one. The origin of Der Götterath is unsure, but it may have been written for exactly the purpose for which it was used; to be a prologue for the opera production of Ovid's Philemon und Baucis, one of the stories from his famous Metamorphoses. Der Götterath ("Council of the Gods") represents a vehement argument among the gods on Olympus, who are displeased and offended by the actions of the people on earth. At the climactic moment, Jupiter, in a fit of rage, tosses one of his famous thunderbolts which, as fate would have it, strikes the son and fiancé of the only two people who aren't being a problem! Such is the nature of mythology, is it not? Jupiter and Mercury decide to go to earth and assess the situation, which teeters apparently between wholesale destruction and merely retail destruction, it seems. And thus ends Der Götterath. Of the remains of this part, which was only performed the one time and never used again in subsequent recreations of P & B, we have the original poem, which is excessively long winded, since every god and goddess has something to say, it seems. In the only restoration, that of Manfred Huss featured here, the only part preserved and used was the final declaration by Jupiter that he and Mercury would descend to earth. But we music lovers have more than that: the original overture, Haydn Philemon & Baucis Huss covertwo movements in C major, must have been deemed too fine by Haydn to merely let disappear into oblivion. He turned them into the first two movements of Symphony #50. So Der Götterath lives on!

Ovid's Metamorphoses was far from obscure in the 18th century! Education at the time was based on The Classics, and this was certainly one of them. It served as inspiration for works like 12 Symphonies after Ovid by Karl Ditters, an immensely popular series of just a few years later. It is fair to say that 100% of the intended audience for this opera knew the story already, so Haydn's use of it was perfectly suitable for the situation, which, in the long run, was to warm the cockles of Maria Theresia's heart towards her Hungarian minions.

The story is straightforward enough. In a nutshell; Jupiter and Mercury search Earth to find people who still believe in the gods and act properly. Discouraged in this, they come to the house of Philemon and Baucis, who, even though they are mourning the loss of their beloved son and his fiancé from being hit by a thunderbolt from the clear blue sky (Jupiter must have been uneasy!) offer all possible hospitality to the two travelers. Jupiter is impressed by their earnest goodness and restores their loved ones to life, turns their house into a temple, and makes them priests. He proclaims to all the surrounding countryside that these are people who are true to the gods and shining examples of how people should be. The change from peasant to priest is their metamorphosis.

The final part of the play, wherein the joys of being subjects of the munificent House of Habsburg are extolled, is lost. So sad…

There are two modern recordings available of this work available. The Brunner/Salzburger Hofmusik is the shorter of the two, mainly featuring the music that remains, which is not inconsiderable. The Huss/Haydn Sinfonietta version on BIS is as complete a restoration as possible of the complete original presentation. Being a singspiel, it inevitably has a considerable amount of German text being read. If that doesn't bother you (and it shouldn't), then this brilliant reconstruction is the way to go. I usually refrain from making recommendations here, based on the old car sales caveat; your mileage may vary. However, when I see a project to restore history with so much effort and, obviously, expense put into it, I like to see the progenitors rewarded. The music performances alone make this a must-buy, but everything else puts it over the top!

That's it for 1773. I didn't post much more about the Missa Cellensis, since I pretty well said everything I knew back in 1766. But completing this major cantata Mass was also part of Haydn's agenda for the year.

Now we move ahead to 1774. Hope you enjoyed this look into the Year the Empress came to visit (again) as much as I did researching it.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the music!